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When Frank Cella’s primary care physician first diagnosed him with Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection, he had no idea what it was. Nor did he realize that the potentially deadly bacteria would wage such a fierce war against his body.
The bowel infection took hold after Cella, 53, completed a powerful round of antibiotics for a respiratory infection. Although traditionally associated with the elderly and inpatient medical facilities, C. diff infections in younger and healthy individuals have dramatically increased. Research points to antibiotic use as a significant risk factor because it can disrupt the healthy balance of micro-organisms in the gut, allowing C. diff to colonize in the large intestine.
“I lost 16 pounds. I was very fatigued, going to the bathroom constantly,” said Cella, of Evanston. “It was very difficult for me to function.”
Ironically, the standard treatment for C. diff is another antibiotic often successful at suppressing the infection and treating the diarrhea and other complications. But in Cella’s case, whenever he stopped the medication, his symptoms came back with a vengeance. Affiliated Internist Greg Denenberg, MD, referred his exasperated patient to NorthShore Gastroenterologist Eugene Yen, MD, who leads an innovative and highly successful fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) program for patients with severe, recurring C. diff.
Inventive Treatment, Remarkable Results
FMT, also known as bacte riotherapy, is performed during a standard colonoscopy procedure. Dr. Yen explained that he takes stool from a healthy donor and transplants it into the afflicted patient to repopulate the patient’s intestine with C. diff-fighting bacteria.
In 2010, Dr. Yen and NorthShore were the first in the Chicago area to offer FMT treatment to patients, in collaboration with Jennifer Grant, MD, and the Department of Infectious Diseases. In a word, the results have been astounding. Using FMT, NorthShore’s C. diff cure rate is a stunning 96 percent.
“There’s no other medical problem I currently treat where I have full expectation to cure it and potentially never see that patient again,” said Dr. Yen, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. He also directs NorthShore’s Crohn’s and Colitis program. “It’s truly a medical breakthrough. We gave Frank his life back, and I’m absolutely thrilled for him.”
Besides debilitating physical symptoms, depression and isolation are common for patients with the infection. “Their lives have been ruined by C. diff,” added Dr. Grant. “Through FMT, we offer hope for a normal life again.”
Within a day of his treatment last year, Frank Cella went back to life as usual after suffering through seven months of illness. “It’s a miracle cure,” he said.